Compact SUVs are meant to offer drivers with an alternative to the larger full and mid-size options that can be found in the showrooms of most automobile manufacturers. These vehicles often mimic the styling of their bigger brothers and also do their best to offer a generous helping of the cargo space and passenger capacity that attract so many buyers to SUV's, while still keeping the overall vehicle footprint small. When it comes to off-road ability, however, this class of vehicle is fairly evenly split, with some companies choosing to use sedan-derived platforms to favor ride quality over ruggedness and others going in a more 4x4-friendly direction.
For many years, Dodge was satisfied to offer a single sport-utility vehicle, the Durango. Classified as a mid-size and based largely on the same chassis used by the popular Dakota pickup truck, the Durango was eventually re-designed in 2004 in order to better compete with larger vehicles like the Ford Expedition and the Chevrolet Suburban. This left Dodge with a hole in their lineup, as they had no small SUV waiting in the wings to swoop in and take the place of the now full-size Durango. It took 3 years of maneuvering but eventually the brand was able to design and build their first compact SUV of the last few decades.
Corporate stable mates Jeep had been selling the small Jeep Patriot SUV since 2002, and its platform made the perfect starting point for the new Dodge vehicle. Wanting to create more than a simple clone of the Patriot, Dodge managed to incorporate a sizable amount of their company's styling DNA into their SUV, with the final product featuring the thick fenders, blocky ridges and chunk presence exemplified in other recent Dodge vehicles like the Charger and the Magnum. Dubbed the Nitro, it was aimed at a youth market that had so far mostly been served by conservatively-designed vehicles from Honda and Toyota. Despite the aggressive appearance, Dodge choose to remain on the side of SUV's destined to be more impressive on asphalt than on a wilderness trail, and while the Nitro was offered with all-wheel drive it was oriented more towards handling whiteout conditions than trenches filled with mud.
Choosing a vehicle is a very personal decision, tempered by the practical needs and budget of each driver. This article examines the best compact SUV built by Dodge. The Nitro, and provides a summary of the vehicle's features and characteristics for those attracted by its uncommon design.
2007 Dodge Nitro
While the 2007 Dodge Nitro might appear imposing from the outside, the vehicle actually feels much smaller from behind the wheel. This is a bonus for drivers, and even though the SUV's tall fenders dominate the forward view, the Nitro is relatively easy to pilot in an urban situation, and not at all difficult to park. The entry-level Nitro SXT and mid-range SLT both make use of a 3.7-liter V-6 that produces 210 horsepower. Both come standard with rear-wheel drive, and the SXT has the further option of a 6-speed manual transmission in place of the 4-speed automatic that is the only choice for the SLT. Each model can also be ordered with part-time four-wheel drive.
For drivers who would like their SUV to display a sporty side, Dodge also sells an R/T model of the Nitro which uses a 260 horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, all-wheel drive and a 5-speed automatic transmission. Even in everyday driving, this last version of the vehicle is the best all around performer thanks to its excellent power band and better suspension system.
Dodge has taken steps inside the vehicle as well to dispel the idea that a compact SUV can't offer the same type of innovative cargo management that that is typically found in larger trucks and vans. The Nitro features something Dodge calls 'Slide'n Go', which is essentially a movable load floor that can slide out past the open tailgate in order to help owners load the front of the cargo area without having to lean up and into the vehicle. When combined with 75 feet of cargo space, good passenger room and thoughtful interior amenities that are a step above basic, the 2007 Dodge Nitro makes a solid used compact SUV for first-time car buyers.